One of the biggest mistake CEOs and senior leaders make leading major transformation programs: Treating them like a project.

We are all well aware that large-scale transformation projects are not for the faint hearted.

There’s many moving parts, stakeholders, and invisible power plays that are taking place at any given moment, that can sometimes feel frustrating or overwhelming.

But did you know that if you’re managing your transformation program like a standard project you are setting it, and you, up for failure?

In this blog we look at why this is, and what you need to think about instead, in order to avoid this common mistake CEOs and senior leaders make when leading transformation programs.

 

The differences between a standard project and a transformation program

 

Standard project management techniques have been developed to manage a typical project with a clear start and finish, and definable objectives.

“Transformations are not a set of steps that lead to a clear goal”

Transformations however are not a set of steps that lead to a clear goal. They are more akin to a quest to find a rare animal or plant, or to realise, as yet, an unachieved physical feat. You believe it is possible, but you cannot be absolutely certain that you will succeed.

The important distinction is that while projects typically envision a better future through delivering outcomes and getting tasks done, transformation programs aspire to a desirable, visionary future without knowing exactly how to get there.

While there are common attributes of projects and transformations, there are key differences. One in particular will have significant implications. Does your program have a readily identifiable end? Or, at some point, will what you deliver be the ‘new world’ – the new ‘business as usual’ – for a team, department, or organisation?

Preparation for a transformation versus a project

When you embark on a transformation program with the belief that it’s a project, your approach is likely to be one of running a race, even if you are prepared for it to be a marathon.

The importance of understanding the distinction rests in your mental, physical, and emotional approach. The preparation for a quest would be quite different to that for a race of a known distance.

Expectation setting is key

 

Exhausted by lack of appropriate expectation setting on a project

There is likely to come a point where you and your team have run twice the distance you anticipated, you’ve burned three times as much energy, you’re exhausted, and you’re still not there.

Expectation-setting can be the most important exercise that you can do, particularly in relation to your own expectations.

If you do treat your transformation program like a race, the chances are you’re going to have some unwelcome surprises. There is likely to come a point where you and your team have run twice the distance you anticipated, you’ve burned three times as much energy, you’re exhausted, and you’re still not there.

Thinking differently about the ways you resource and work is going to be vital to both the level of innovation your program achieves, as well as the well-being and feeling of achievement of you and your team.

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